Rockin' in the Free World

Soundtracks for your Election Night shindigs

You should also excise all classic rock. Just about everyone under 45 -- and I'd wager, a lot over 45 -- is sick to death of '60s protest rock. Before you baby boomers get your knickers in a twist, I'll grant you that all that stuff we've been hearing on classic rock stations ever since we can remember is great stuff. "For What It's Worth," "All You Need Is Love," "Get Together," etc., are all really good songs. You've told us so for more than 30 years now. You've also told us how nothing we could ever come up with could ever come close to those "heavy sounds" your "groovy" generation "laid down." And by now, decades of nonstop radio play have eroded away their edge; they are now worn as smooth as a stone in a creek over which millennia of whitewater has rushed.

So, what are we left with? Well, just as you can't have a Red State Mix Tape without Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," neither can you have a Blue State tape without Springsteen's "Born in the USA." While it's nowhere near as bad as Greenwood's atrocity, I've never really liked it, so I'm gonna have to take my remix skills to the other side of the political aisle for this one. This time, Barack Obama is my guest rapper of choice -- I'll splice in the Illinois boy wonder saying things like "I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America." Throw his "audacity of hope" bit between Bruce's choruses, and you'll have another hit on your hands.

And after that, what have you got? Still too much. In a way, the glut of music of different styles illustrates the disarray that the Democrats have been in since the 1960s. There's a bunch of styles that mostly cancel each other out, taste-wise. Put too much alt-country on there, and you'll piss off the hip-hop crowd; weigh it down with too much fashion rock and dance, and you'll lose the punks. There are generational fault lines too -- many youngsters today don't give a crap about the Beatles, much less Buffalo Springfield. Despite all Bill Clinton's efforts to unify the Democrats, musically the party remains a hodgepodge of special interests, all out for themselves and to hell with the rest of you. So I guess you'd just have to make a hodgepodge of a tape consisting of songs from a wide variety of styles all conveying the Dems' theme, but more on that a little later.

The Republicans' strong suit -- both musically and as a party -- is its appeal to traditionalism. Most of the musicians who played in or around the GOP convention harked back to times gone by. These days, almost all country is a deliberate anachronism, as a vast majority of the population is now urban or suburban. And then there's Southern rock, which was rootsy when it debuted in the early '70s and has grown three decades hoarier since then. And bland bubblegum pop à la Simpson and Spears has always been around. Republican music is comfort music, and like comfort food, it can be great or terrible, but it never challenges, it only consoles. It wants to take you back to the good old days that never were. In short, the Republicans believe in yesterday, when all our troubles were so far away.

Contrast that with the Democrats, who perpetually promise you a future that will never be. Think of the Kerry campaign's use of Springsteen's "Land of Hope and Dreams" ("Leave behind your sorrows / Let this day be the last / Tomorrow there'll be sunshine / And all this darkness past"). Then there's Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," which sunnily and famously ushered in eight years of Clintonism. "It'll be here, better than before," the Democrats want you to believe. "Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone." At any rate, that would be your Democrat mix tape -- a bunch of uplifting songs about tomorrow, including the ones listed above. (And Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up," which should be the Democrats' eternal fight song forever and ever, but isn't.) Sounds nice, but in the interest of fairness and balance, I must quote the Beatles again: "Tomorrow Never Knows."

Too bad neither party seems all that ready or eager to have "Right Here, Right Now" as its campaign song.

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